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Grimm's Fairy Stories, 1922 Edition

By Snuggiepants the Deathbringer | Book Reviews | April 13, 2010 | Comments ()


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Everyone is familiar with some of the Grimm brothers' stories: "Cinderella," "Little Red-Cap" (which in English was more like "red riding hood"), "Hansel and Grethel," but I had never read them in their entirety and I was completely unfamiliar with many of them. So I set out to fix that.

The first thing you have to know is that most of these stories were told around the kitchen fire late at night when the kiddos were supposed to be asleep (they probably heard them, of course). In other words, they weren't meant for kids. The themes include infanticide, homicide, incest, rape, cannibalism, you name it. The Grimm brothers of Germany simply recorded the most popular of these stories for a new audience who could actually read.

There were stories meant for kids, but they were hardly much more appropriate, as they were meant to frighten children into acting appropriately. Fortunately, more of those are found in the Hans Christian Andersen Dutch tales rather than these German ones. They're great, but tend to be a bit preachy, as you can imagine.

No, the brothers Grimm just wanted to record some good stories. In the original "Cinderella," when the oldest sister's foot doesn't fit, the mother just lops off her big toe with a huge knife, telling her queens have no need of toes, anyway, as they don't have to walk anywhere. The wretched thing hobbles out, blood spilling out of the shoe and onto the floor and our prince is so blind and/or stupid that it takes a talking bird to get him to notice that girlfriend is missing a toe in that GLASS slipper AND BY THE WAY, DUDE, THERE'S BLOOD EVERYWHERE.

He takes her back like a Wal-Mart reject, disgusted by her disfigurement and the dishonesty and the second sister gets the back of her heel cut off with that big knife. Pretty Boy again doesn't notice until the bird (probably rolling its little eyes) tells him to check out all the blood behind the carriage. We all know what happens next: He goes back, insists on Cinderella trying it on, they live happily ever after, blah blah blah.

By the way, in this version, Cinderella does not have a stepmother. Nope, that's her MOM who treats her so badly, which is so much worse. (Dad loves her, but is blissfully ignorant.) I guess Germans were OK with admitting that mothers don't always love all their children.

Speaking of, Snow White? Was SEVEN years old in the original tale. No, there were no weird things going on with the seven dwarves (though why they continued to leave her in danger every single day seemed unexplainable except that there wouldn't be a story otherwise). But she's SEVEN. And her dad is around, just again, blissfully ignorant. So when the handsome prince sees her under the glass coffin in the woods, asleep/dead, she's a child. And he marries her. OK then!

I was fascinated, though, by the lesser-known stories, most of which seemed to revolve around kings with three sons, one of which was always what we would now call mentally disabled. They were nearly always named something like Dummerling or Dummly. (Remember these were originally oral tales, so that made it easier to keep track of the characters and remember their names. It's the same reason behind the fact that things so often happen in threes in these tales: easy to remember.)

Of course Dummerling or Dummly would always win the day, usually through magic or a fair maiden who showed up just at the right moment. These stock characters -- the handsome prince, the stupid goof, the clown, the evil servant who tried to trick their master, the wicked stepmother (Hansel and Grethel's stepmom takes the cake here -- let's leave them out in the woods to slowly starve or get eaten by wolves!) became stock characters and though our plots are much more sophisticated today; read almost any novel or watch almost any movie and you can find echoes of these characters. (This is when I again wish I had a copy of Joseph Campbell's The Hero With a Thousand Faces -- if I can find it at the library, it'll be a future cannonball review.)

There's not much more to say about the Grimm tales except this: If you would like to read a story featuring the single dumbest character ever written, read "Catherine and Frederick." Literally if Frederick doesn't tell Catherine to do something, it doesn't occur to her to do it. And by "something" I mean things like put the cap back in the beer keg after getting some so it doesn't just run all out over the floor. When they left on a journey she didn't bolt the door, so Frederick sent her back to bolt it. She COULDN'T FIGURE OUT HOW, so she just took the door off the hinges and carried it with her (how was she able to do that if she couldn't bolt the door?). After a while (and this one was a long one) I grew pretty tired of her stupidity and just wanted Frederick to kill her. It didn't help that the ending was more nonsensical than the entire story, so that one was pretty unsatisfying, but seriously: dumbest character ever.

All in all, this was fun. I love folk literature, and I'm glad I finally sat down and read every one of the Grimm tales, good, bad and ugly!

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Snuggiepants the Deathbringer's reviews, check out her blog, Kriegerfrau


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